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Both sides in nurses strike have reasons to settle



Published: Sun, July 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



At the risk of overstating the obvious, the strike by nurses of Forum Health has gone on far too long.

Seventy-five days have passed since members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association walked off the job. Two-and-a-half months is a long time for a hospital to be getting by with a skeleton crew of high-cost replacement workers.

It is a long time for any of the YGDNA's 770 nurses to go without a pay check. It is a long time for a community to worry about the future of one of its most vital health care providers.

Northside Medical Center and Tod Children's Hospital, as Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey has pointed out, are community assets that must be preserved. Not only do they provide quality health care, but they are an important contributor to the Mahoning Valley's economy, with 3,000 employees and an $81 million payroll.

Talks resume: Negotiations will resume tomorrow, and we wish we had some words of wisdom that would inspire both labor and management to reach an agreement. We don't. We don't know that anyone does.

But it would seem to an outsider that an agreement is possible. The hospital has said it has offered a wage and fringe benefit package that is equivalent to a 15 percent increase over the life of a proposed three-year contract. Those are impressive numbers, especially in today's economy.

The nurses have made mandatory overtime a rallying cry. While we would agree that no nurse wants to work 16 hours straight, and no patient wants to be tended to a nursing who has been working 16 hours, an employer cannot sign an agreement that precludes its ability to fill necessary slots when an employee calls off from a shift.

Both sides have to find a way of working out that sticking point.

And that is best done in hard negotiations with both sides committing to stay at the table as long as is necessary.

Not a solution: Mayor McKelvey has suggested that the nurses and hospital resort to binding arbitration. We would argue against that. Some of the worst dispute settlements we have seen have come out of binding arbitration involving public employees, especially in police departments. We need only look as far as the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department, which was ordered to return an untrustworthy deputy to the force, to see how badly binding arbitration can turn out

Binding arbitration is a tactic of last resort that can backfire on either side. Forum Health and the YGDNA should remain the masters of their own fates, working wisely to reach an agreement that is best for them and their community.

The last thing Youngstown needs is to become a state or national focal point in a battle over mandatory overtime. If the strike here takes on a life that reaches beyond the Valley, these past 75 days will only be a harbinger of worse things to come.




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